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Cinema Signal: Highly flawed but two actors who almost make up for it. MOBILE version |

. "Under Suspicion"

On a scale of 1 to 10 I would give both starring actors, Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman, fifteens. From that you can infer my regard for them as masters of the art. They've laid down some of the best character performances in modern film. Nothing less.

So, it makes sense that when you have a story that's almost all talk, mostly between the two lead characters, you cast it with such consummate players. And, if you can't get them to do it by paying them, you get them to produce the film. Or, perhaps, it's something that got into their hands and they decided to produce it because no studio would have green lighted it without them.

Another aspect of this canny move is the budget. Typically, actors who produce are taking scale and a fat percentage on the back side. They do that when they really want to do something that's inherently not commercial, such as "Under Suspicion". This is a psychological detective story that's told on three sets, as though it came from a stage play, which it didn't.

The beauty of the formula is that this picture, made entirely in Puerto Rico, probably cost no more to make than their combined mortgage payments for a few months. Despite its failures, despite negative reviews and word-of-mouth preventing any sizable box office, it could still be a modest money maker -- the virtue of a low budget.

Now that I've said all that (and I had to) I'll go on with the plot of this disappointing piece of work: Henry Hearst, a rich tax attorney (Hackman) living on the island, has reported his finding of a young girl's dead body to the police. But, something about the details of his report troubles Captain Victor Benezet, the local police chief (Freeman) investigating the case, which involves a previous killing of a young girl under very similar circumstances. As the movie begins, Benezet phones Hearst to ask him for 10 minutes of his time to clarify some details in the report.

His phone call interrupts Hearst and his much younger trophy wife, Chantal (the exquisite Monica Bellucci), dressing for a fund raiser in which he's the principal speaker. But, all right, you can scarce turn down the Captain and he did say 10 minutes. We, of course, know it's going to be the entire movie, but that's cinematic life.

The movie then becomes a cross-examination of a suspect in which one curious detail is explained differently each time it's brought up, adding layer upon layer of suspicion to the veracity of our rich attorney suspect. Yes, he's trying to conceal his taste for young girls, his practice of hiring prostitutes, his degrading behavior. But, as the embarrassing truths emerge about this paragon, the writing choices make it all so misleading as to be fraudulent. I haven't been so angered by this kind of over-manipulative writing since "Rules of Engagement" and I squirmed in my seat from frustration.

Now, some of us understand the importance of being represented by a lawyer should we be detained for questioning, whether we're guilty or not. But this hugely successful lawyer, pillar of his society, urbane, informed, aware -- he chooses not to. To do so, of course, would completely ruin the plans of Claude Miller and John Wainwright who wrote this modern screen adaptation from Wainwright's French cult classic, "Garde a Vue" ("The Inquisitor") which Miller also directed in a 1981 French production starring Michel Serrault and Romy Schneider as Chantal.

This little stylistic touch of not letting reality intrude upon what the plot requires litters this script with elements of falsity from start to finish (which can't be detailed further without giving it all away). Yes, there's a surprise ending, but it's the result of fraud and misrepresentation. The main culprits here are those who put the screenplay together.

Despite this, it is worth the price of admission to see these two at work. Though some of the atmosphere and situation can be found on any "NYPD", there is no mistaking the depth Freeman and Hackman add to their roles. And, it affords Hackman a thematic aria on the workings of the male mind, which seems to be the point of Wainwright's story.

Another point of interest is in the visual style with a series of memory images of the past incorporating a current character. In these "flashback-flashnow" inserts, Captain Benezet inhabits the thoughts of the characters. It's done tastefully and it's a fresh take on a standard device, fitting well into the investigative schema.

Rated C, for Could have been better.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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"This movie amounts to nothing more than a lame attempt at a Hitchcock-esque thriller. It demonstrates once again that more than star power is necessary to keep the viewer interested."

                                                   ~~ Otis M.
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Site rating: 9

After reading 10 or so reviews, I found this to be the most accurate of them all. When you refer to fraudulent writing I couldn't have agreed more. Hit the proverbial nail on the head.

                                                   ~~ MJ

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